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Ask Dave

Living With Dad Is a Bad Idea

Brittany's 55-year-old father is losing his house. Her father plans to move in with her since he has nowhere else to go. What's the best way to set some boundaries with him as he moves in?

QUESTION: Brittany in Denver has a 55-year-old father who is losing his house. She’s 22 and a newlywed, and her father plans to move in with her since he has nowhere else to go. What’s the best way to set some boundaries with him as he moves in?

ANSWER: If by “clean up the mess,” you mean you pay his bills, no, it is not your place. You’re 22 and newly married. I’m guessing you’re not wealthy. He’s a 55-year-old grown man. It is his job to clean up his mess.

Can you coach him to the extent he will accept the coaching? Yes, you can coach anybody and give anyone encouragement and be a cheerleader to anyone. I’ll help anybody who wants help and who will actually follow the advice. I’m not going to waste a bunch of time on people who aren’t doing anything. Yeah, definitely coach him to the extent he’ll accept the advice.

I have a feeling you don’t want him to move in.

I want you to be able to help your dad. I do not want him to mess up your life, and this guy does not know what a boundary is because he’s never even set boundaries in his life. If you move him in, you’re not going to move him out. You’re going to end up in the same position he’s in. That’s the problem.

I would talk to your husband and see if you want to help him get into an apartment that’s $250 or $300—a very, very, very inexpensive one-bedroom apartment—and the only way I would do that is under a couple of conditions. Condition number one is that he agrees to start doing handyman work on the side immediately and print up business cards and go knock on doors and go knock on apartments and go see real estate agents and get some work because he knows how to repair things. That’s actually a very valuable skill—a lot more than $14 an hour. And he probably has a decent set of tools.

He needs to rent him a little apartment. He’s got a way to get some work done. He can carry his tools and get some work done. In addition to being 40 hours a week at $14 an hour, he starts doing repairs on the side for other people starting today. He gets on a written budget that you review with him, and he doesn’t support anybody but himself. I think that’s what he needs to do.

He can’t move in with you unless he’s going to follow your instructions. Period. He’s going to stay there for five years if you don’t set some boundaries with this. If you move him in with you, he needs to have the boundary that he’s gone in one month. One month. One month. And really, I’ve got to tell you I wouldn’t even do that. I would spend some of your $1,000 to help set him up in an apartment that he takes from here forward, and don’t you co-sign for that lease either. You get him in there and get him going.

It’s not because you don’t love him. It’s because you guys are not in a position of strength to be gentle to him, and it’s going to end up going badly. He’s going to move in and then you’re going to toss him out because you haven’t given him boundaries and you haven’t made him do some of the things he has to do to straighten his life up, then he’s not going to be ready to leave.

He’s got to cancel these policies. He’s got to get on a budget. He’s got to get his income up. He’s got to get organized. He’s got to grow a life. And at 55, it’s time.